My Experience of Applying to Modify My SOPO Term: written by an Ex Client of Juliet Grayson in 2019
In 2011 I was convicted of sexual offences. I was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment (suspended) and I was ordered to complete a 3 year community order.
At the same time that I was being sentenced, the Police requested that I be made subject to a SOPO (Sexual Offences Prevention Order) which contained various restrictions upon my activities. The judge agreed to the order, and announced that it would stand for an indefinite period.
Since I had been sentenced to 6 months imprisonment (suspended), then according to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, Section 82[i], I would be placed on notification requirements (commonly known as the sex offenders’ register) for 7 years.
However, the indefinite period of the SOPO would have the effect of extending the notification requirements to an indefinite period as well!
Unfortunately it was only later, long after sentencing had concluded, that I came to understand the consequences of the indefinite period of the SOPO.
A 2008 ruling by Mr. Justice Forbes in the court of appeal (Regina vs Paul Churchill Hammond, items 10, 11 & 12)[ii] conclude that a sexual offences prevention order must run in parallel to the notification requirements.
Therefore, any SOPO which extends the notification requirements beyond the mandate of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 should be challenged by the defendant’s solicitor or, if not, then made the subject of an appeal.
I only know all this in retrospect. At the time that it was happening, I had a lot of things to deal with in my life and I didn’t have the psychological bandwidth to concern myself with the SOPO. So I ended up being subject to it, along with the indefinite period, and my notification period therefore became indefinite as well.
I am not the first person, nor the last, to find himself in this position.
In 2017 I decided to apply for a change to the term of the SOPO. The opportunity for appeal had long since expired, but it is still possible to apply to the court for an amendment or a discharge of the order.
An application for amendment can be made at any time, but an application for discharge of the order can only be made with the permission of the Chief Constable unless it has been in place for more than five years. If the SOPO has been in place for longer than five years then you do not have to seek permission from the Police to apply for discharge of the order.
There are some legal implications for making an application to discharge an order vs making an application to amend an order. An application to discharge involves much wider considerations and is therefore less likely to succeed than an application to make an amendment to the order.
In my case I only wanted to change the SOPO such that its term ran parallel to my notification requirements, so I made an application for amendment. To do this, I contacted the court via email and explained what I wanted to do. I then had a short email exchange with the court in which they asked me for some details. After this I received a letter inviting me to attend court for a hearing a few weeks later.
One thing to be aware of is that the court will immediately make contact with the Police on this matter. Even if your SOPO has been in place for more than five years so that Police permission is not required, the court will still take into consideration the opinions of the Police (typically your PPU officer) and it goes without saying that the opinion of the Police will carry some weight.
In my case I decided to discuss my intensions with my PPU officer prior to making the application, and I found that I had the support of the Police in this matter. Because of this, I felt confident to represent myself at court rather than pay for a solicitor.
If I had been in the position of suffering a poor relationship with the Police then I would probably have taken counsel from a professional solicitor, since they can argue the case on points of law (see previous reference to precedent).
One thing that really worried me about my court hearing was the possibility of press interest. Such coverage would have the potential to undo a lot of the good work I had done to turn my life around in the 6 years since my conviction.
In practice I found that the press took zero interest in my hearing. The hearing is not considered a criminal matter, and therefore it is highly unlikely to attract anybody’s interest. My court hearing was empty, aside from the court staff that were necessary to run it.
At the court hearing I of course dressed appropriately, and I was polite to all the court staff at all times. I went prepared to justify my application, so I had armed myself with examples of how I had turned my life around and why the indefinite term of the SOPO negatively affected my prospects as a rehabilitated person going forwards.
In practice I found that I didn’t need to make much of these arguments because of the support I had from the Police. The judge read out the correspondence from the Police and stated that this satisfied him enough to agree with my application. In fact, he went further and immediately discharged the order, even though I had only made application for amendment.
I would strongly advise anyone who is in a similar position with an indefinite SOPO to consider making an application to the court for amendment to the term. If you are further able to gain support from the Police in the matter, then I would advise that you represent yourself in the hearing.